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Unicef call for the protection of children in armed conflict

April 30, 1999

Armed conflicts around the world are taking an increasingly horrific toll on the rights of children, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in Bogota today.

"In Angola, in Kosovo, in Colombia, and in many other places, we are witness to the criminal violation of child rights, including forced displacement, abduction, sexual abuse, conscription into military service and the use of children as spies and human shields," Ms.Bellamy said.

"The wounds inflicted on children in armed conflict are an affront to every impulse that inspired the Convention on the Rights of the Child," Ms. Bellamy said. "And that is why the international community must loudly proclaim these violations of child rights for what they are: intolerable and unacceptable."

In the past decade alone, more than 2 million children have been killed in armed conflict. Another 6 million have been seriously injured or permanently disabled. And countless others have been forced to witness or even to take part in horrifying acts of violence.

The UNICEF chief made the remarks during a visit to Colombia for meetings with UNICEF representatives from Latin American and Caribbean countries. In a meeting with the Colombian President, Andres Pastrana, she congratulated him for his efforts to settle his country's long civil conflict. She also said she was encouraged by Colombia's strong pursuit of development goals for children in the country.

However, Ms. Bellamy expressed alarm that children are increasingly being caught up in violent conflict - not just in Colombia, but in many other parts of the world.

In Colombia, according to Defensoria del Pueblo de Colombia, the official human rights ombudsman, an estimated 6,000 children under the age of 18 are involved in the continuing civil conflict there. According to CODHES, an independent human rights monitoring group, 131 children were kidnapped in 1998. Over the past decade, 1,257,000 people have been displaced by the conflict - including 700,000 children. In 1995-96, an estimated 99 people were maimed and 29 killed by anti-personnel landmines - 44 of these victims were children.

Ms. Bellamy appealed to the Colombian government to revise national legislation to prevent recruitment of children under 18 into military service by all parties to the conflict and also urged the government to ratify the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines.

"The situation of children displaced by armed conflict should figure prominently in an agenda to bring lasting peace to Colombia," the UNICEF chief said. "Children have played a key role in the peace effort here and their faith and trust must not be betrayed. Attention should be given to every displaced child in Colombia and the terrible disruption of so many young lives must be brought to an end. UNICEF will do all in its power to help reach this goal. We appeal to all parties to the conflict to do the same."

"Children should always have a first call on resources, particularly in situations of armed conflict," Ms. Bellamy said. "In the 10th anniversary year of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, The wounds inflicted on children in armed conflict - physical injury, gender-based violence, psychosocial distress - are an affront to every impulse that inspired the Convention, and on the eve of a new millennium, this message cannot be stated too strongly."

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